A note on my three blogs

A note on my blogs

(1) vio; in love with india - this one is the main blog about my Indian adventures, which started in 2005. I don't write much on this blog these days because I prefer to write privately in the confidential blog. But check out the categories and the index to figure out your way. I have kept some older posts not about India but which I still find interesting or relevant in Old words. Also check out my new, fun category Only in India in which I post photos of funny, unique, Indian situations...

(2) vio; sounds of india - this is my blog of sounds, because India wouldn't be as incredible if it was not so vibrant and just so full of incredible sounds!

(3) vio; confidential - this an extension of my main blog in which I post entries I do not want to reveal to the entire webspace for privacy or sensitivity reasons. You must receive an invitation from me and then accept the invitation to be able to read it. You may email me if you are interested in receiving an invitation.


Tuesday, 26 November 2013

How Life designs my music syllabus & and a new student

Teaching violin has been great in Khajuraho.

My student's father, the music teacher Trivedi had been telling me for a while that he wanted to enrol Akhilesh onto the Prayag Sangeet Samiti course in Allahabad for violin. Now you don't have to live in Allahabad for this course; you just need to find an accredited music teacher in your area who will teach you the course's syllabus, and at the end of the year you just sit the exam. Trivedi does that with his pupils at the music school. Once a year he has to fill a pile of (50+) forms and bring them to Allahabad (this is about 3 hours before Varanasi by train), and once a year an external examiner comes to Khajuraho for the practical exam.

The Prayag Sangeet Samiti is famous all over India; it may well be the most famous Hindustani music institution in the country. Before I enrolled onto the Hindi program at Banaras Hindu University (BHU) to get a student visa, Sukhdev had told me that if I enrolled onto this course, I could just study with him, sit the exams, and come to India with a student visa. At the time though, I had never heard of this program (and I could never remember its name) and I was scared that it wasn't official enough for the embassy to grant me a student visa! I was wrong, because about three years later a friend of mine got a student visa through the program. Nevermind, I wanted to learn Hindi from BHU anyway, and I always had in mind that music is for love, and as such it is important for me that I learn it outside of any institution in order to follow my own musical path... After completing my Hindi diploma I did join BHU for the violin diploma to be able to renew my student visa, and it was a great experience, but I dropped during the second year, because it was impeding too much on my own routine, the course was disappointing, and I would never want to move on to the BMus or MMus program in BHU anyway. I guess I could join the Prayag Sangeet Samiti myself but ah - no, not for me. I've done enough of formal studying in my life (10 years!)...

Anyway... The Rishikesh students too have all studied for the Prayag Sangeet Samiti, some of them have passed their exams up until the 5 or 6 years, and I was amazed when I learnt that even in Khajuraho, one can study music for the Prayag Sangeet Samiti!

Well, it makes me quite proud that my student is now also studying for the Prayag Sangeet Samiti! His father has enrolled him onto both first and second years, so I have to teach him the syllabus until May! It's amazing how Life always seems to bring me new challenges at the right moment. In a way, I really feel Life (God!?) is designing my music syllabus: After 4 years of studying with Sukhdev, Life forced me to enrol onto the BHU violin diploma, not so that I would get a violin diploma but to give me an insight into how music is taught in formal institutions, to get me to read about music in Hindi books, and to introduce me to my two classmates who would become my first violin students. About a year later, Life introduced me to a music teacher in Khajuraho, so that I would start learning semi-classical music with him and accompanying his pupils in class - because it's very complementary to my India classical "syllabus" with Sukhdev, as it gets me used to hearing other taal (rhythm) cycles and it gives me the opportunity to practise accompanying the kids by ear. Along with that, in Khajuraho still, I got my very first (and so far the steadiest) violin student whom I would teach from scratch! About a month ago in Varanasi, Life offered me a 9-year old Australian student because I should know how to teach young kids too, and in English medium. And now, for three weeks, I have started teaching Akhilesh towards his Prayag Sangeet Samiti exams! I wouldn't be able to do this if I hadn't got the BHU insight...

So the first two raags I will teach him will be Bhairav and Yaman. Bhairav was the very first raag I learnt with Sukhdev, and at the time, in order for me to understand the structure of Indian music, he had written everything from bandish (composition) to boltans and tans (fast improvisation). I don't have any written alaap for Bhairav, but I took it from Akhilesh's father's book. Now with Sukhdev, apart from the composition I never write anything of course, because I learn to improvise. In music institutions however, in the beginning at least, everything is written and learnt by heart. Trivedi never teaches any improvisation to his pupils, but it's OK because they are kids. Although I knew I would only have to teach him written stuff, I was a bit scared to teach Bhairav to Akhilesh at first because I hadn't played it for four years, and because I didn't remember the feeling of this raag. Yet, miraculously, just before coming back to Khajuraho I shared two or three classes with one of Sukhdev's new students who was learning... Surprise, surprise: Bhairav! I had never asked anything to Sukhdev about going back to Bhairav, but Life made the necessary arrangements. I recorded the alaap, just to get it back into my ears and into my fingers... So these last three weeks I have been going through Bhairav with Akhilesh. And I am amazed to go back to my first classes with him! It's such a great refresher, reminder of my own progress! And I am thrilled when I hear him play what I used to play, just after over a year of teaching him! It's wonderful that I have taught him all this from nought!

Finally, this week Life granted me my second Khajuraho student. Actually I had already given him a class a month ago but I didn't know if anything would follow. I met Arjun, one of Vijay's distant relatives, for the first time at a family do on 10 October. At the end of the day some of the family members had wanted me to play violin. He had been amazed in a genuine way and had wanted to try the violin. I had felt some real sensitivity in him, so I had told him I could teach him, and a few days after that I had given him a taster class before going back to Varanasi. When I was back three weeks ago I saw him in the town centre and said hello to him, but he had been too shy to came back for class... until three days ago. If this works out he will be a new challenge for me. Not only do I have to teach him violin from scratch, but also, unlike Akhilesh, he has absolutely no background in music. Akhilesh had never touched a violin before he met me, but he had been exposed to music from his father since he was born, and he had studied tabla for 2 years. He could hardly sing before I started teaching him either, but he does have a good ear from his life-long exposure to music. Arjun, is another story. He can sing pretty much in tune, but his range of notes is extremely small - like most people here it seems. He can sing "Pa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa", but after Pa he can't go any higher and says "Dha, Ni, Sa" without changing his pitch. And like everyone here he confuses going up in pitch and going up in volume! So I shall see what I can do!! I absolutely love his attitude though. Most kids here "do what they're told". Being a good student here means learning what your teacher says by heart and repeating it properly. But Arjun is not your typical (rural) Indian kid, and I love him for that! At only 13, he has a real gift in henna tattooing, and he even earns money from tattooing brides-to-be! He follows his own heart; he has initiatives. At his third class he asked me if he could try to play the scale holding the violin in western position, and then even holding it upside down like a cello. And he asked me what the lower strings were used for, unlike Akhilesh who probably wouldn't have played them by now if I hadn't told him to! Unlike Akhilesh who takes his violin classes very seriously, Arjun laughs all the time. At the same time he is very curious, he definitely wants to learn and he has great concentration, but he knows it's for fun, too! Learning and fun don't often go hand in hand in rural India and that's exactly what I thrive to teach here... So I am very much looking forward to teaching him. Of course he has no violin and so far he has been playing on mine. He comes from a poor family, but he has told me he would earn money himself and when he has collected enough, I will bring him a violin from Banaras (like I did for Akhilesh)...

How I love being the first violin teacher of Khajuraho...

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